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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Letter To Rani Sharif

By: Benjamin Rose

And thereupon my heart is driven wild:

She stands before me as a living child.


Gul hui jaati hai afsurdah sulagti hui shaam,

Dhul ke niklegi abhi chasma'ee maahtaab se raat,

Aur mushtaaq nigaahon ki suni jaayegi,

Aur un haathon se mas honge, yeh tarse hue haath.

—Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Regarding a recollection of our conversation on 27 September 2020

About the long-delayed novel. Note: as to the wording of Stanza VII—consult

The remarks of Mr. Manzoor in the Evening Standard.

I would not say something so presumptuous on my own authority.


J.A. Nadler


Over the fretboard, the sinister asks

A nameless boy for his prurient love.

Eager and wiry, fit to their task,

Through the progression your brown fingers move.

And in this American anthem sung

Over the sea from the golden-sheaved grain,

Far from the heartland, a pleasure is wrung

Deep from your dactyls’ hard-callused pain.


We two have lounged and spoken at length

Under the haze of your French cigarettes

‘Midst water and bourbon; tested our strength

In bearing the heart’s long-wasted regret;

Until you asked in that troublesome tongue

My tongue turns round in Nastaliq-like pains

And guttural rasps my unmannered throat

Has yet to accomplish—when shall I name


The fictional highway on which you ride

Your blue Kawasaki? Stern as the sea

‘Neath the moon’s influence, each day you bide

“Just a few days more”, enraged to be free

As that Marxist muse, who, in the despair

Of brow-beaten peasants drew such a fire

The gaol could not quench him. In the night air

Wherein the grass swirls, I hear your desire;


Hear, but no answer I gave you could sate

The wound of your hunger, balm the untruth—

O my Atonement!—Nor solve thy complaint

With vacuous oaths, and crocodile ruth.

A gora carves your circuitous script

To lend densely-plotted logic to prose

In myriad drafts, as if an eclipse

Auspicious as Hamza’s your birth foretold.


“Birth?” You say, in disbelief. “I know blood

Shed in the memory of bullet-bit trains

That crossed the black border. Voices you love

Bear in their cadence, the wretchedness, pain

Scourged by the wailing of Toba Tek Singh

Into the marrow marked by barbed wire.

Why do you hesitate? Why not begin?”

So said you, Sovereign, eyes lit with fire.


“Guilt” I replied to you, nothing concealed.

“No Anglican angst within my heart dwells,

Nor ancestral evil. The Ram’s horn peals

No more in the shtetl. The Zyklon Hell

Fed on my Belarusian kin, all those

Who could not escape; and now in Ukraine

The trembling flare, the Ruscists sick throws

Renew the schutzstaffel’s barbarous game.


The Black have their heroes, the White, their Queen;

The Brown man alone, the woman erased

Seethe in obscurity. Once you were kings;

Now Mo Salah has subsumed the prayer’s place.

And I, who stood by the solar and heard

The sound of al-Najm, saw you Submit,

And found myself, faithless, moved beyond words,

Breathe your blue banner—but I am unfit.


“I did not ask” you said, with high resolve

“When first from your sunken squalor I drew

Your hand to the page. I am your penance;

I am your patron, and payment is due

For each drop of verse and alchemic blood

The Road of Glass invented, and devised

Out of the rubbish and fracture of love,

The azure Psyche with awakened eyes.

“And if I fail?

“So what?”

“It would shame us both.”

“You will not.”

“I am afraid.”

“You’re no coward.

Now go, and make history, mate.”


Benjamin Rose is a poet born and raised in the D.C. area and the author of The Road Of Glass. His work has appeared in The Dillydoun Review, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, and Cathexis Northwest Press.

The “Letter To Rani Sharif” is directed to the intended protagonist of a novel I’ve wrestled with writing over the previous two years, and the piece grew specifically out of an attempt to articulate many concerns that had grounded the work in development hell with little to speak of beyond thin drafts and research. One of the central concerns was anxiety about writing a work predominantly although not exclusively focusing on characters of another race or culture than my own, which suffuses the poem in question. The poem itself grew on a whim after reading W.B. Yeats’s “Among School Children” and Victor Kiernan’s translation of Mauzu E Sukhan (“Poetry’s Theme”) by Faiz Ahmad Faiz in quick succession; the first four lines of Faiz’s work is quoted in romanized Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, above. To any native Urdu speaker unfortunate enough to have listened to the audio, pardon my pronunciation, I’m only a few weeks into learning.


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